Compassion for the Unlovely

We have taken the last four months to remind ourselves of our local church’s foundation. My goal as the new pastor here is not to come in and change everything but to build on the foundation that has already been laid by Christ and through the faithful work of the previous pastor. That is why I wanted to preach through the church’s belief statement first. Over the past few months, I have heard that you desire to know more of God’s word in the Old Testament. Many of you who grew up in church only really remember hearing the New Testament. In order to facilitate a spiritually healthy church, I know that the previous pastor had to spend much of his time in the New Testament, primarily Romans and Acts. I have personally taught an overview of Genesis-Ruth. Those sermons can be found on my blog if you are interested. Today we will introduce First Samuel.

In First Samuel, we begin to see God’s meta-narrative (the narrative of the whole of Scripture) really take shape as God transitions His people from being a loose association of tribes under a common covenant to a unified kingdom under an eternal throne prepared for the Messiah. As we take the time this morning to introduce First Samuel, we are simply going to ask: What was God doing through the Old Testament? What was His point in taking so much time to provide so much history before the Word became flesh? Why is First Samuel relevant for our study, today?

1 Samuel 8:7-9

The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”

The History

Before we get into this amazing book, I want to provide some context. Context is so important because without context it becomes so easy for us to misread, misinterpret, and misrepresent any text in God’s Scripture. In Genesis 1-11 we read about God creating all things for His own glory, pleasure, and affection. People rebelled, pursuing their own glory, pleasure, and affection. In Genesis 12-50 we read about God calling out a representative remnant from all the peoples of the earth for His own glory, pleasure, and affection. In the books of Exodus through Judges, we read about how this remnant maintained a pattern of rebellion, perpetually pursuing their own glory, pleasure, and affection.

The Context
In First Samuel, we will be reading together about the time of transition from the time of the judges to the time of the kings. We will read about how the people desired a king so that they could be like the other nations. God will establish a worldly king and then He will prepare Christ’s throne through David and David’s descendants.
First and Second Samuel are one unit. The major themes are God’s kingship, God’s providential guidance, God’s sovereign will and power, and the redemption of God’s national people. First and Second Samuel is another dramatization of God’s redemptive plan, like Genesis 1-3 and the story of the Exodus. As we read, we will remember that Israel, through the Old Testament, was a pictorial prophecy, or a living parable, concerning the work of Christ. God would do more than merely provide a human king for the people. He would prove, again, the insufficiency of people and would establish Christ’s throne in His created world. The key passage in First Samuel is found in chapter 8, verses 7-9.

Key verses (1 Samuel 8:7-9)

As we look at this key text, we are going to use it as a window through which we might understand the whole book of First Samuel. This means that today we are going to take a bird’s eye view at the text. Next week we will land and start hiking from the beginning of the trail to the end.

Leading up to 1 Samuel 8:7, the elders of the nation of Israel have come to Samuel. Samuel was the final judge and he was also the prophet and priest of God’s national people. The elders have requested a king because Samuel is getting old and because Samuel’s children are corrupt. Samuel does not like the idea of coronating a king like all of the other nations do. To him, it is a sign that the people are rejecting the ones whom God has chosen to lead through and, instead, want a human ruler who would be like the kings of other nations (8:5). When God speaks to Samuel, God instructed Samuel to grant the wish of the people. God also revealed that the people had not rejected Samuel, even though that is how Samuel must have felt. The people had rejected God Himself as their king and wanted a worldly king for themselves. This is the pattern of the people that has already been established from Genesis 3 through the book of Judges.

We will get into the intricacies of this verse when we hike through this passage in order. Today, I simply want to share why this book, First Samuel, is so relevant to our own community, to our state, to our country, and to our world.

Rejecting God

First, people reject God as their king (v. 7). Even people who refer to themselves as Christians do this. Those who reject God will also reject the servants of God. In my Christian life, I have experienced much more rejection than acceptance (even in the ‘Bible belt’). This summarizes the first 8 chapters of First Samuel. Over the course of First Samuel, the people will be given a human king. That human king will fall short of God’s glory. A new king, the lowest of the low, will be chosen and God will establish His own throne in His creation through this lowly king, this suffering servant named David.

Serving other gods

Second, people have served other gods (v. 8). We say that if we just do this or say this or believe this, things would be better. So, we all have our ideas about the way things should be. Faith in the God of the universe bids us to trust that He is working out all things according to His will. If I ever find myself saying that I can do things better on my own, that I don’t need the church body, or that someone else should be better than they are, I’ve committed some form of idolatry. In our culture, it is almost always the idolatry of self and of individualism.

I had a heart of stone. I know what it is like. I served intellect, and I served entertainment. I was about my own comfort and I always assumed that I was the most intelligent person in any room. I recognize a heart of stone when I see one. I had one. This is why our community needs the message we find in First Samuel. I don’t know how often you get to interact with people in our community who don’t come to TCATS or who are outside of your circle. There is a hardness of hearts here, just as there is everywhere in the world. People are addicted to so much less than Christ and to so much less than our actual purpose and they don’t even realize it. The message of First Samuel is just as relevant today as it was for those elders who came to Samuel asking for a king like the other nations. In Christ and as a part of Christ’s body, there is something better than what the world has given us.

Bearing witness

Third, the people of God are to bear witness and testify about a better, perfect way (v. 9). God’s instruction to Samuel was that he should listen to the people, but warn them about the procedures of a worldly king. As the people of God, we are in this position where we must bear witness to the people of the world concerning the things of God. We are controlled by the very love of God as we saw last week in 2 Corinthians 5:14. We don’t do this abrasively. God’s instruction to Samuel was such that Samuel became a servant to the people. As the church, the body of Christ and God’s witness on this wretched earth, we are here to serve our community for the good of the community and the glory of God. This is why we make such a great effort to get the Gospel into our community. It is why we work toward practicing intentional evangelism. This is why we’ve started sharing videos from Sunday morning services and live streaming! It is why we provide as many resources as possible to our community and why we have a church library. As an act of service to you, we’ve even provided a devotional commentary on First Samuel. I want to invite you to utilize that commentary. It can be found on the church website and on my blog. We’ve also posted a devotional commentary on the book of Acts. I wrote it last year. The reason I am sharing it with you today is that there was a question asked on Wednesday evening about the movement of the Holy Spirit in the context of the local church, and we are here to serve for the good of the body and the community.

We don’t bear witness of our own teachings or philosophies. This is why when I teach, I don’t present the teachings of Andrew Cannon. I content myself to teach God’s word alone so that Christ is our only teacher. Samuel was instructed not to answer the people according to his own displeasure (v. 6). Samuel was to answer according to God’s instruction alone as God worked all things together in order to prepare Christ’s throne within creation. So, this is how we also bear witness.

Here, we catch a glimpse of how God works and what He was doing through the Old Testament. First, God does not send His servants to force His people to move in one direction or another. God would give a worldly king first, then after God prepared the people through the oppression and blasphemy of that worldly king, God would provide a man after His own heart. Samuel did not have the responsibility to move the people. Neither would King David have the responsibility to move the people later in the story. God accomplishes this by working all things together.

For myself and the other servants here at The Church at Sunsites, this means much. We must realize that God, in His sovereign providence, works together all things to take His people where He desires that they go. This is true for the local church and for our community and for every person around the world. As servants, we simply bear witness according to God’s instruction and trust that God works out His will in all things.

Regarding this heart of stone that is so present in our community and, I think, in every community worldwide because of the current condition of the world, what is our prerogative? How do we even begin to address the bitterness, condescension, hatefulness, selfishness, offensiveness, unhealthy pride, anger, malice, and hypocrisy that has so overtaken this world?

It was a number of years ago in Oklahoma City. I was reaching out to this man who grew up in church, but got involved with drugs and fell away from the community. He was trying to clean himself up. I met him one afternoon at a local coffee shop and we were talking about Christ and about the church. He talked about how he didn’t think the church was as lovely as he thought it should be and that he didn’t really want to get back into church because the people were in some way unlovely (I don’t remember the exact details of our conversation). He felt like he could grow in his faith on his own with just his Bible even though that Bible said plainly that those who love Christ don’t neglect the gathering because the reason we meet together is so that we can stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). As this man criticized the church for not being lovely, he was unable to consider his own unloveliness.

Fast forward six or so years and we are here in Pearce and I have talked with two people in the past week who made the exact same argument as the man in Oklahoma City, almost verbatim.

When Jesus looked upon people like this during His bodily ministry on this earth, He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 6:34: 9:36). Are we moved to compassion as witnesses for the glory of God and for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose?

God is patient, kind, and longsuffering. We will see these characteristics present throughout First Samuel as we see them through the whole of the Old Testament. God’s purpose is to draw His people to Himself and to prepare the everlasting throne for the Messiah in His creation. The message of First Samuel is one that every church body needs. It is a message that our community desperately needs. While we are in our year of evangelism, my hope is that we will share this message from week to week. It is not the message of Andrew Cannon. It is not the message of The Church at Sunsites. It is God’s message to God’s chosen people. That is the message we proclaim. It is the only message that actually matters. We trust that those who have ears to hear will hear.

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